US-born journalist held in Iran as spy

Roxana Saberi, 31, was arrested in Tehran about two months ago. Roxana Saberi, 31, was arrested in Tehran about two months ago.
By Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim
Los Angeles Times / April 9, 2009
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BEIRUT - An Iranian-American journalist has been charged with espionage by the country's security court, the prosecutor and her lawyer said yesterday.

Roxana Saberi, 31, a freelance journalist living in Tehran, was arrested more than two months ago and is being held inside the capital's Evin Prison. Sohrab Heydarifard, the judge overseeing her case, told state television that she is charged with working for US intelligence.

"The charge against her is one of espionage," he said. "This accused has been coming and going to certain government circles under the cover of reporter and without a permit. And through the contacts that she has made with certain employees of these government organizations, she has perpetrated actions to compile and gather information and documents and transferred them to American intelligence services."

Iranian authorities said Saberi had been investigated by the counterespionage section of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, had confessed to the allegations and had been informed of the serious charges against her.

"The documents are there in her case, and she has admitted to all of the charges," Hassan Haddad, deputy chief prosecutor at Tehran's Revolutionary Court, told the Iranian Students News Agency.

A trial will begin next week, Heydarifard said.

Saberi's lawyer said he lacked basic details about the case. "I have not read her file, so I cannot confirm" Saberi's confession, said Abdul-Samad Khoramshahi.

"On Saturday, I will go to see when the trial will be held and whether I can read the file or not," he said.

US officials said they are monitoring Saberi's situation through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which serves as Washington's representative in the Islamic Republic. "We are deeply concerned by the news that we're hearing," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters. "We wish for her speedy release and return to her family."

Saberi, the daughter of an Iranian American father and Japanese American mother, worked as a journalist for various Western news outlets, including the British Broadcasting Corp. and National Public Radio. Authorities revoked her credentials in 2006, but she continued to report for broadcast outlets and work on a book.

Saberi's parents, Reza and Akiko, arrived in Tehran on Sunday and visited their daughter in prison Monday. She had been moved from solitary confinement.

Haddad, the prosecutor, said that an indictment had been issued against Saberi.

"Since the case is still being investigated and no verdict has been issued yet, we cannot reveal more details on it," he was quoted as saying.

Saberi, born in New Jersey, holds dual US and Iranian citizenship and has been living in Tehran for six years.

"She holds Iranian nationality, passport, and birth certificate and has entered the country with her Iranian documents," he said. "We are not aware if she holds any other nationality, and the issue will not influence how Iranian judicial sources handle the charges against her."

Saberi was arrested in late January. She told her parents in an early February phone conversation that she was detained after purchasing a bottle of wine, a criminal offense in Iran. Judiciary and Foreign Ministry officials alleged that her reporting activities were illegal, although media law specialists have disputed that interpretation of Iranian law.